Graeme Piper reviews the new Blondie vinyl box set.
What more can be said about Blondie’s music that hasn’t been said a thousand times before? So ingrained in our consciousness are they after nearly 40 years, that there isn’t really much left to say. But there’s much more to the New York group’s music, other than a handful of top 10 singles and an album that shot them to international fame.
Just released by Universal, and pleasing the vinyl lovers among us no end, comes this box set featuring all six Blondie albums from their ’76 – ’82 heyday. From the 1976 debut Blondie, 1978’s follow-up Plastic Letters, breakthrough album Parallel Lines (also from 1978) and finishing with Eat To The Beat (1979), Autoamerican (1980) and The Hunter (1982). To top it all off, all six albums fit neatly (rather too neatly actually – it took a bit of effort to get the albums out!) into a sturdy outer slipcase, complete with iconic Parallel Lines-esque artwork.
This set offers nothing new in terms of track content other than what was released on the original albums, but it really doesn’t matter as the box just needs to be appreciated for exactly what it is. Faithfully reproduced from the originals, attention to detail is king. And when I say ‘faithfully reproduced’, it’s exactly that – the cover artwork is just as the originals in every way and even the inner sleeves contain the same information and images. The obligatory 2014 copyright info is the only small addition to each back cover with those annoying barcodes also making an appearance on the back of each sleeve.
The actual vinyl is pretty joyous as well – lovely 180g heavyweight vinyl gives a much superior sound quality to the originals and is a far cry from the super thin records so common in the 70s, 80s and 90s. The centre labels are also fully intact in terms of look and reproduction (again, the only addition is the 2014 copyright guff), but oddly, the bracketed track timings that appear on the originals have disappeared.
Anyway, with the overall look, feel and authenticity all pretty expertly taken care of, how does this thing sound? Well, bloody lovely actually. I can’t find any info about whether the tracks are taken from the most recent remastering some years back or not, but I’d like to think that they are given that they sound superior to the originals.
Starting from the top with debut Blondie from 1976, the album was released amid the emerging New York punk/new wave scene on Private Stock Records and immediately crashed and burned. Luckily for them (and us), Chrysalis were on hand to scoop up the fallout and re-release it. Although the album doesn’t contain any chart toppers that would soon become commonplace, it is home to killer singles X Offender and Rip Her To Shreds which told us in no uncertain terms that Blondie had arrived.
1978’s Plastic Letters carries on from where Blondie left off, with more of the pop-rock that put their name on the map, and spawned the band’s first bonafide hit single in Denis (UK #2, March 1978). Future single (I’m Always Touched by Your) Presence, Dear and the fantastically titled I’m on E also feature and pushed Blondie further towards what was to follow.
Their first UK number one album, Parallel Lines, of course, needs no introduction and can almost go unreviewed. Spewing forth massive hits like they were going out of fashion, including the disco swirl of Heart of Glass, the raucous Hanging On The Telephone and the vicious, slicing riff in One Way or Another, not forgetting non-single tracks that are equally as good (Will Anything Happen?), it’s virtually a Greatest Hits package without even trying.
Hot on the heels of their new found international success, Eat To The Beat arrived just a year later in 1979. Hitting the UK albums charts to give them their second number one album, it gave birth to another slew of hit singles including the wistful Union City Blue and perennial favourite Atomic. Taking the winning formula from the previous album and carrying it forward, with added touches of funk and reggae being thrown into the mix, gave the album a more diverse sound.
Autoamerican, again, came just a year after its predecessor and the band were in experimental mode. Though the album proves to be something of a mixed bag musically, with funk and jazz fusing with their already established pop rock sound, this didn’t hamper its success, reaching UK #3 and it offered two solid hit singles in UK chart topper The Tide Is High and Rapture.
Conceived as a concept album, commercial and critical success didn’t beat the door down upon the release of final album The Hunter in 1982. The calypso inspired lead single Island of Lost Souls reached a respectable number 11 in the UK, but only just scraped in at 37 in the US. Follow-up War Child fared less well – it failed to chart in the US and was only a minor UK hit. Not bad songs, but It’s fair to say that, at this point, Blondie’s best days were gone. With poor album and ticket sales following, eventually drugs, tensions and Chris Stein’s illness all took their toll and Blondie split at the end of the year.
The thought of Blondie becoming so influential and vital to future generations was probably the last thing on their minds and it was another 17 years before the inevitable (and glorious) comeback that heralded a second wave of plaudits and commercial success (1999’s No Exit was a UK #3 album).
Fully justified and worthy of such a release, the Blondie Vinyl Box Set is really a testament to a band who, in a relatively short lifespan, created some of the most memorable songs of an era and really did prove to be every bit as influential and vital as this set would testify.
The Blondie Vinyl Box Set is out now.
Review by Graeme Piper for SuperDeluxeEdition.